If you ever have traveled outside the United States, you know the feeling of being an outsider and stranger. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of traveling to Kenya with Wayland’s Mission Center.
While I deeply love the people and the experience, it is a far different world from West Texas. The people speak a different language, and those that do speak English do so with a heavy accent. The customs, laws and food are at times quite different and everyone lives according to “Kenya time” (few people wear a watch so almost nothing starts according to schedule).
That is something of a picture of a Christian’s life in this world. As believers, we are citizens of another kingdom living in a foreign land. Once we accept this new citizenship, we take on a new language, customs and spiritual diet this world often cannot understand. Having instructed his readers in living their new life in Christ, the Apostle Peter describes how they should live out their new citizenship as strangers in relation to the world in which they live.
Abstain from evil practices (2 Peter 2:11)
Although believers are not of this world, we do live our daily lives in this world, and we are subject to its many temptations. Of course, not all things that are a part of this world are evil. Not all things which appeal to our natural desires and appetites are to be avoided. A man’s natural desire for his wife or an individual’s natural desire for food and shelter are inherent to life.
Those desires we are called to abstain from are those that cause an internal struggle against our new citizenship. These desires wage war within our hearts and minds because they seek satisfaction in violation of the desires of the Spirit which lives within us as believers. That Spirit gives us a new set of desires so when we sense an internal conflict as we live our daily lives, we should remember our place as strangers in the world and abstain from the worldly practice.
Excel in honorable conduct (2 Peter 2:12)
Not only should we avoid evil practices, but we should replace them with acts that distinguish us as honorable people. One of the primary reasons for living with strangers in this world is because people are watching. Many believers say they are uncomfortable witnessing. Yet if unbelieving neighbors know you call yourself a Christian, you already witness on a daily basis even without saying a word.
Mahatma Ghandi was once asked why he seemed opposed to becoming follower of Christ since he so often quoted Jesus. His response was, “I love Jesus. It is just that so many of you Christians are so unlike him.” So often believers become so focused on avoiding sin that we forget to live in Christ-likeness. Peter reminds us it is our honorable conduct that most effectively will draw others to God. It is much more what we live for rather than what we are against that will persuade others to follow Christ.
Submit to earthly authority (2 Peter 2:13-14)
One of the main charges people often made against members of the early church was that they refused to accept the Roman emperor’s rule. While those early believers did refuse to bow and worship the emperor as a god, most were content to accept Roman law.
Today, many believers seem unable to be content unless their political party is in control. They constantly are criticizing members of the other party and questioning the background and motives of their leaders.
While we certainly are not called to agree with everything our leaders do or say, we always should have a respect for the office and seek first to pray for and cooperate with all governmental leaders. We should be careful that our allegiance to earthly leaders, regardless of political affiliation, never leads us to violate God’s law. As citizens of God’s kingdom, God’s law is our final authority. Yet short of such a violation, we should seek to live at peace within the earthly system just as we would obey the laws and customs of any foreign land to which we might travel.
Live as free servants (2 Peter 2:15-17)
Peter next perhaps anticipates the response of some of his readers who would object that becoming a follower of Christ frees one from worldly constraints and allegiance to earthly powers. Peter’s reply is to affirm we are free, but it is a freedom from having to always seek our own plans and security. We should never use our freedom in Christ to excuse behavior that is contrary to Christ’s call on our lives.
Peter reminds us we are most free when use our liberty in Christ to serve Christ. We demonstrate our freedom from self most clearly when we kneel to help raise another. Misused freedom damages our witness and often brings harm to others or to God’s purposes. But when we use the liberty God grants to us properly as strangers in this world, the Spirit flows through us bringing life to all those around and encouraging others to join us on our pilgrim journey through this foreign land.